June 25, 2018

Indie Authors: Make the Most of an Event


Last weekend was HeroesCon, and I had a great time. I really enjoy going to events to meet fans and sell books in person. Of course, the primary goal of tabling at an event is to make money, but there are a bunch of other benefits that also make it worthwhile. Even though I didn’t quite reach my lofty sales goals for Heroes, I’m still really glad I went.

I’ve done an embarrassing amount of research on setting up an artist table, every aspect of author signings, and even the psychology behind making sales. I’ve also had a chance to apply what I’ve learned and watch what’s worked for other people. So, even if I’m not the ultimate authority, I know a thing or two.

Without further ado, here are my tips for making the most of an event.


Choose the event wisely


It’s impossible to say, “All book festivals are great,” or, “Only big events are worth your time.” Each one will have a different crowd with varying desires to purchase stuff. Do the research ahead of time to see what type of people go to that event and whether or not they’re within your audience. Otherwise, you may end up throwing away money for tables that don’t work out. I had thought that a book festival would be a great place to sell books, but it turned out that most of the people there were locals passing through and had no intentions of purchasing any books.

Something I have observed is that smaller events in smaller towns tend to have more dedicated attendees who take the time to check out every single table. Also, people like supporting local artists.


Just because you’re an artist doesn’t mean you belong in artist alley.


The line between artist and vendor isn’t clear cut. Vendors sell stuff, and artists… sell stuff. The differentiation is made by the event organizer. Artists can only sell things which they created. This limitation usually means a (barely) smaller table fee and a smaller table. This is another thing that can depend on the event, but some attendees may only be interested in purchasing vintage toys and mainstream comic books. That doesn’t mean these focused customers won’t buy an indie book, just that they might skip artist alley altogether and not even see you there.

If the difference in table fee is small, go with the vendor table. You’ll get more foot traffic, meet more people, and (hopefully) make more sales.

Another slightly related note, the table fee doesn’t correspond to how successful you’ll be. Organizers will charge what they think vendors will pay. If the vendor list includes a lot of businesses that attend every year, that’s a good sign. If the sellers present are a new cast each time, that’s bad.


Be approachable


I’ve put a lot of thought into how to be welcoming and approachable. A lot of that is because I spend most of my time with children crawling all over me and not really interacting with other adults, so I’m a bit out of practice. Thankfully, you don’t need to be incredibly attractive for people to want to come over and talk to you.

Wear blue

I know, I thought this was silly when I first heard it too, but it legitimately makes a difference. Blue makes people think you’re trustworthy and competent. Other colors also have strong influences, like red with lust and anger, white with youth and innocence, and black with depression—while also making you disappear into the background.

Smile

No one wants to talk to the person frowning in the corner. If you want to interact with people in a positive way, put away the resting bitch face.

Make eye-contact

Not making eye-contact makes you look disinterested or timid. Too much makes you come across as a creep. Find a balance.

Wear a conversation piece

This is just something cool to strike up a conversation. Even better—especially at a comic con—wear a costume. It doesn't have to relate to your books, but certainly helps if it does.


Know what you’re selling


Of course you know what you’re selling, you wrote the damn book. However, there’s nothing quite like having someone ask, “What’s your book about?” when you haven’t prepared an answer. Cue deer in the headlights and a lot of ummms. On the fly, it’s impossible to condense an entire novel into a couple sentences, and you don’t want to simply read the blurb off the back cover aloud.

Prepare a short, medium, and long pitch. For The End of Refuge, my pitch is:

Short: Dystopian.

Medium: A dystopian-style story about a group of people trapped in a bomb shelter.

Long: The End of Refuge is a dystopian-style story that follows a group of people who have been trapped underground in a bomb shelter for over twenty years. As their resources run out, they need to find a way to survive or escape. I was inspired by the Fallout video games when I wrote this book.

I actually flubbed up on pitching my newest novel, At Fault, at HeroesCon. I recently released the paperback and the ebook hasn’t come out yet, so I hadn’t really put together an elevator pitch for it. Because of that, I didn’t sell any copies.


A great book cover will sell your book for you


An eye-catching banner and professional display are important, but it all comes down to the fact that you are an author selling books. Readers who see an attractive book cover will be drawn to your table. The look of the covers will influence which books they ask about and pick up.



Put a book in their hands


There’s nothing quite like the tactile experience of touching a smooth cover, cracking open the book to reveal the deep black ink, and smelling the new-book aroma. Psychology shows that when someone touches something, they’re more likely to buy it, so don’t wait until someone interested picks up your book—place it in their hands.


Network


I love meeting fellow creators. Talking to other artists will give you a feel for the event you’re attending as well as other ones with a similar focus or that are hosted locally. I also enjoy talking shop with other people and learning about their own publishing journeys. Collect as many business cards as you can and follow the people you meet on social media. Although you can meet a bunch of people online, I’ve learned about local events and opportunities from artists I’ve connected with in person.


Agree to do an interview


At every convention I’ve attended, someone has asked for an interview or for me to participate in their podcast. Maybe I’m just being a bit of a narcissist, but I adore doing these. They also provide a link to other creators, and you’ll get exposure to their audience, although it may be small. Having someone interested in your table, especially when they have a microphone or camera, makes other people take interest as well.



I don’t have anything else planned until the fall Four State Comic Con in October, but I’m really looking forward to that one. And by the end of the year, I’m sure I’ll have even more tips to share. Until then, I’ll be focusing on some online marketing and launching my next book.

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